Sunday, December 17, 2006

Penthesilea stands apart in her fiery epic grandeur

When Collected Poems and Plays appeared in 1942 on Sri Aurobindo's seventieth birthday, readers were overwhelmed at once by the rich and varied content of the two sumptuous volumes. But easily the most unexpected item was Ilion - an epic fragment running to 381 lines - at the end of the second volume, given as if in illustration of Sri Aurobindo's views on the adaptability of quantitative hexameters in English verse...Homering Homer in the fullness of the delineation and the gorgeousness of the imagery. In attempting a continuation of the Iliad of Homer, Sri Aurobindo was taking no small risk, but it was also an irresistible challenge...The Penthesilea-Achilles motif had been obscurely essayed by Sri Aurobindo earlier in the narrative poems Uloupie and Chitrangada, both incomplete, referred to in an earlier chapter (IV. vi). The warrior-woman, and the heroic hero - the forged antagonism, the fateful attraction! ...
In Sri Aurobindo's play, Eric, as we saw earlier (Chapter VI), the end-note is "not Thor... but Freya"; in Perseus the Deliverer, the change is from ruthless Poseidon's to enlightened Pallas Athene's rule. There is on the terrestrial as well as the cosmic scale a continual push of evolution - from war and revenge to peace and compassion, from the reign of violence and hate to the rule of reason and enlightenment - and behind the monumental clash of arms and the destruction of the towered city and the doom of empire, obscure forces are at work to usher in a new era, to compel new life to rise phoenix-like out of the ashes of the old...
The bold "unwomanly" woman, woman as uncompromising Shakti, had been sketched earlier by Sri Aurobindo in Vidula (after the Mahabharata), in Chitrangada, in Cleopatra of Rodogune, of Aslaug of Eric, in Cassiopea of Perseus the Deliverer; and Andromeda was the portrait of a woman fearless as well as compassionate, her Shakti playing the role of triumphant Grace rather than that of ruthless power. But Penthesilea still stands apart in her fiery epic grandeur. She comes partly as the would-be saviour of Troy and partly - or chiefly - as the seeker of Achilles, half in hate and half in love. Staking all, daring all, she is the committed uncalculating woman made up of beauty and love and valour and hate. Nevertheless, she is neither the whole nor the really wholesome efflorescence of Woman as Shakti. In the Western tradition, Penthesilea could be linked with Atlanta and Artemis and even Ishtar of the still earlier myths. But Sri Aurobindo sees her in other possible lights as well.
- K.R. Srinivasa Iyengar from "Sri Aurobindo - a biography and a history"revised and enlarged fourth edition August 1985 (The first edition in 1945 had been carefully revised by Sri Aurobindo himself before publishing) Chapter 25 "Poet of Yoga" - Subchapter 4 (pages 618-625)published by Sri Aurobindo Ashram - Pondicherrydiffusion by SABDA

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